Top-ranked Clemson returns home today for its third home game in the first four weeks to start the season, as the Tigers host the Charlotte 49ers at Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
This will be the 49ers’ first trip to Death Valley. They are sporting a 2-1 record and are coming off a 52-17 win over UMass last week in Charlotte.
The Tigers (3-0, 2-0 ACC) on the other hand have won a school record 18 straight games. Sixteen of those wins have come by 14 or more points. The 18 consecutive wins is the longest active winning streak in college football. Clemson has won 13 straight games by 14 or more points.
Who has the edge in today’s game?
Clemson’s defense vs. Charlotte’s offense: The 49ers are averaging 47.3 points and 522.3 yards per game, while the Clemson defense is yielding 10.0 points and 256.7 yards per game in the first three weeks of the season. Something has to give, right? It starts with running back Benny LeMay for Charlotte. He is averaging 117.0 yards in the first three weeks and has scored 5 total touchdowns. The 49ers also can pitch-and-catch. Quarterback Chris Reynolds leads Conference USA and ranks 15th in the FBS with a 178.4 passing efficiency and he has thrown 7 touchdown passes. He is averaging 9.32 yards per attempt. Wide receiver Micaleous Elder leads the team with 201 yards. For Clemson is starts up front where the Tigers are giving up just 75.0 yards per game on the ground. Last week, they held Syracuse to 15 rushing yards. The Tigers, led by linebacker Isaiah Simmons, had 15 tackles for loss and 8 sacks in a dominating performance over the Orange. Advantage: Clemson
Travis Etienne vs. Charlotte’s run defense: Since the opening week of the season, when he rushed for a career-high 205 yards and scored 3 touchdowns against Georgia Tech, Clemson running back Travis Etienne has had modest rushing performances in the Tigers’ wins over Texas A&M and Syracuse. He rushed for just 53 yards against the Aggies and last week had 76 rushing yards against the Orange. Look for that to change today against Charlotte. The 49ers have struggled to stop the run this year, allowing their opponents to average 190.0 yards per game on the ground. Opponents are averaging 5.2 yards per carry. The Tigers are averaging 6.8 yards per carry as a team with Etienne leading the way at 8.0 yards per carry. Clemson is averaging 251.0 yards per game on the ground. Advantage: Clemson
Trevor Lawrence vs. Charlotte’s pass defense: The 49ers have a good pass rush, led by defensive end Alex Highsmith (6-4, 242), who has four sacks on the season already. The Tigers will try to counter with a passing attack that has been okay, but not great so far this season. However, Clemson’s offensive line has allowed just 2 sacks in the first three weeks, including none in last week’s win at Syracuse. Overall, Charlotte’s defense is giving up 313.0 yards per game and has been pretty good in pass defense. However, the 49ers have not encountered a group of wide receivers like Clemson has where five guys—Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross, Diondre Overton, Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson—stand 6-foot-4. Then there is speedster Amari Rodgers, who has looked like Superman, since he returned from an ACL injury 173 days ago. Finally, there is quarterback Trevor Lawrence who is coming off a career day in which he threw for 395 yards and 3 touchdowns against Syracuse. The sophomore also has three rushing touchdowns on the season, which has been overshadowed by his 5 interceptions. He has 8 touchdown responsibilities already this season, and he is just beginning to warm up. Advantage: Clemson.
Bottom line: Charlotte is an improved team under first-year head coach Will Healy. The 34-yard old has the program and the players believing in themselves, which is the most important thing. And though the 49ers will compete in Conference USA this year, they can’t compete with Clemson’s overall talent. The 49ers will play hard and will do everything they can to try and hang with the Tigers, but in the end, Clemson just has too much talent and weapons to keep up with. Clemson will keep its “Leave No Doubt” mentality going and should cruise to an easy victory while getting a lot of young players some work.
Prediction: Clemson 49, Charlotte 17
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